Behind her mask is a deadly secret . . .
The powerful head of the covert mercenary organization The Committee, Isobel Lambert is a sleek, sophisticated professional who comes into contact with some of the most dangerous people in the world. But beneath Isobel's cool exterior a ghost exists, haunting her with memories of another life . . . a life that ended long ago.
But Isobel's past and present are about to collide when Serafin, mercenary, assassin and the most dangerous man in the world, makes a deal with The Committee. Seventeen years ago Isobel shot him and left him for dead. Now it looks as if he's tracked her down for revenge. But Isobel knows all too well that looks can be deceiving . . . and that's what she's counting on to keep her cover in this international masquerade of murder.
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October 31, 2007
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Excerpt from Ice Storm by Anne Stuart
Madame Isobel Lambert was exhausted. It had been a draining weekend in the Lake District--she'd played with her hosts'obstreperous children, gone on long hikes, eaten too much rich food, drank too much red wine, wrestled with her conscience and killed two men. All that without a cigarette. She was not in a good mood.
There was no question that the men had deserved to die. Manuel Kupersmith and Jorge Sullivan were the lowest of the low, and beyond the reach of traditional justice. Drug dealers with a taste for torture and a well-financed sympathy for terrorists, they'd covered their tracks too well. If she'd had to, she would have put a bullet in each of their dark, twisted brains.
As it was, she'd managed to sabotage their car, a nice, antiseptic kill. While she spent a social weekend with a member of parliament and his young family, it had been easy enough to wander past the inn where the two men had taken up residence, easy enough to sneak into the garage while the two were in bed. She knew a great deal about cars, and if her calculations were correct, the brakes would give out at the steep curve above the Lohan Cliffs and the car would end up on the rocks below. If the brakes failed too soon the car might hit a pedestrian; too late and they could run into the busy traffic of the neighboring town. Not something she'd be happy about, but a risk worth taking.
In the end, her timing had been perfect. As her hosts drove her to the train station in Lohan Downs they'd passed the police cars and the cordoned-off section of road, and her host had made important noises about road safety as Isobel breathed a silent sigh of relief. It was done.
She had the Sunday Times with her for the train ride back to London, and she finished the crossword puzzle in record time. Her flat in Bloomsbury was still and quiet as she let herself in, and she stripped off her clothes and headed straight for the shower, calm and impassive as always, ignoring her shaking hands.
She waited for the water to get hot, then stepped beneath it. And only then did she cry, silently, steadily. Not for the men. But for her own lost soul.
Peter Madsen looked up when Madame Lambert walked into the office the next morning, a cardboard cup of coffee in one hand, a newspaper under her arm. He had the same paper open in front of him.
"Shame about the car accident near the Lohan Cliffs," he said evenly, watching her out of the icy blue eyes that saw too much.
"Indeed," she said calmly. He would have been the one to do it, but he'd pulled back from that kind of work. Everyone reached their limit when it came to wet work--either they burned out or made one too many mistakes. Peter was deskbound, not because of his bad leg but because he'd seen and done too much. His focus had changed to his American wife and the semblance of a normal life, and Isobel wasn't going to do anything to change that, even though she could.
But she was running out of people she could trust to do what was necessary and nothing more. In the three years since she'd taken over Harry Thomason's role as head of the Committee, she'd lost three effective operatives. Bastien had disappeared into the mountains of North Carolina with his wife and family, Peter was no longer on active duty, and Takashi O'Brien was dividing his time between Tokyo and Los Angeles. He could still be counted on to do what was necessary, but Isobel was not the kind of woman who made other people do things she herself wouldn't. And Taka had a new life as well--he didn't need fresh blood on his hands.
Morrison in Germany, MacGowan in Central America were still working ops, and the Thai mission was almost complete. Takashi's young cousin, Hiromasa Shinoda, was due to arrive any day now, and if he was half as good as Taka they'd be in decent shape. Though the learning curve was steep, and Isobel knew nothing about young Mr. Shinoda except that Taka recommended him, which was good enough. But he wouldn't be ready for solo assignments for quite a while, and she didn't know who she could assign to train him.
She hated not knowing things. "You look rattled," Peter said, his voice cool and devoid of sympathy, as she needed it to be.
"I'm fine. It's just been awhile. Any sign of Taka's cousin?"
"Not yet. You had some calls."
There was something about the tone of his voice that twisted her stomach into a small knot of dread. She turned her impassive face back to him. "I imagine I did. Harry Thomason, I suppose?"
There were only the two of them in the Kensington offices of Spence-Pierce Financial Consultants, Ltd., their very effective cover. Anyone who managed to get through to them had every business doing so. More mundane matters were conducted at a distance.
Isobel took the leather club chair opposite Peter's desk, crossing her legs. Good legs for a woman in her sixties. Good legs for a woman in her forties. Not even bad for someone her real age.